NOK: The Drinks Alchemist
“When it comes to creating a cocktail programme, balance is the key”says Emil Galiev, the man behind the new cocktail menu at Nok, one that has had bar flies across the city coming back to work their way through it. For Galiev, who is based in New York, and was part of the team behind the legendary Pravda, a bar that reigned in the city from its opening in the late 90’s, working on a project in Lagos came with its own unique set of considerations:“the biggest impact was the taste profile of Nigerians… They like things sweeter, they like more refreshing drinks, things that hint at the tropics.”
“Nigeria for me was like an explosion of flavours and colours and it was super inspiring”
Keen not to go down the route of obvious clichés with an abundance of coconuts and pineapples in each concoction to evoke warmer climes, Galiev took a holistic approach, immersing himself in the food culture of Lagos with beguiling results: “Nigeria for me was like an explosion of flavours and colours and it was super inspiring” he notes and as well as trying all the dishes on the Nok menu to get an idea of pairing flavours he also explored food markets to gain a deeper understanding. His process was driven by a desire to ensure that the menu felt like an authentic reflection of the actual food and drinks culture in situ, rather than one of an ‘imagined Africa’ pieced together by an outsider and he adds: “We found amazing ingredients, one of a kind things, it’s crazy you google to find a description there but I would still say 90% of the ingredients we used, those that inspired, are not [commonly] known to people outside of Nigeria or probably Africa.”
“Nigerian people, I love everything about them; [they’re] kind, hard-working, with a great sense of humour.
Not content with utilising ingredients native to the region, Galiev decided to extend his creative process one step further, delving into the reasons why people drink in addition to exploring what they drink: “I had spent hours in the library, researching online, just looking… and besides the social reasons people drink, health kept coming up. In fact every cocktail I created has health benefits, which historically, any kind of hard liquor or liqueur does [as] they were created as potions of some kind with medicinal purposes.” Indeed, many of the ingredients in the new cocktail list, would not be amiss on a traditional herbalist’s counter, from Uyayak fruit to Awopa bark, known locally as remedies for rheumatic pains and malaria respectively. In bringing traditional medicine into the mix, Galiev has ensured that the genesis as well as the heart of the cocktail menu is rooted deeply in African norms, realities and traditions.
Curiously for a renowned mixologist, Galiev does not drink recalling “I got drunk twice when I was sixteen and then I said stop” but this has not hindered a career that has seen him work around the world, and he sees many ways he could have expanded his thesis on cocktail creation, speaking of the unusual fruits and barks he adds “I wish I could have had a chance to ferment some of them but maybe next time.” Fortunately, for Nok regulars, the prospects of a return visit and further development of the list are high. “Nigerian people, I love everything about them; [they’re] kind, hard-working, with a great sense of humour. Again, to be able to experience Lagos, not just go to the market but also talk to people, experience the culture, the language, the way people act, I don’t know, it was all very cool, I think I am in love with Africa.” And we couldn’t agree more with his analysis, as we raise a glass with one of his ambrosial intoxicating elixirs.
NOK by ALÁRA:
Contemporary Pan-African cuisine
NOK by Alára is a contemporary African restaurant that takes diners on a culinary journey across the continent. Celebrated Executive Chef Pierre Thiam has created a menu that teases out food memories, explores cultures and perfects techniques from a plethora of cuisines, reinterpreting them for a modern palate.
Set in an intimate dining room and spilling out into a lush garden that features furniture and art created by some of Africa’s current ‘design masters’, a visit to NOK is an unparalleled sensory experience.